WEIRDLAND: Jim Morrison & Pamela: Sadness and Love

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Jim Morrison & Pamela: Sadness and Love

Jim Morrison illustrates a man who was very aware of the power struggle between crowds and their leaders, offering a window into each stage of his increasing fame and growing frustration at his commodification and inability to inspire action in others. The first section of The Lords and the New Creatures (1970), titled "The Lords: Notes on Vision", contains Morrison's autobiographical commentary on the dialectic between individuality and expectation. One of Morrison's concise observations of popular culture reads, "The cleavage of men into actor and spectators is the central fact of our time. We are obsessed with heroes who live for us and whom we punish." He clearly identifies himself wholeheartedly as a spectator, not an actor. Morrison's eventual transformation from spectator to actor is the final blow to his authority; eventually, instead of critiquing the society and the status quo (as DeLillo also believes should be the artist's role), he is irrevocably connected to it, and thus, is unable to affect any real change. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Morrison eventually became one of the "heroes" that he speaks of.  

As Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek put it, in an interview with Andrew Doe and John Tobler, Morrison eventually became "tired of being The Lizard King. Jim Morrison was a poet, an artist-- he didn't want to be the King of Orgasmic Rock, The King of Acid Rock, The Lizard King." Morrison's withdrawal and subsequent death can here be equated with Bucky Wunderlick's withdrawal and the eventual death of language that he suffers in Great Jones Street (1973). DeLillo makes it clear that Bucky regains his power over his fans by willfully disappearing, and Morrison's life can be used as a test case that proves DeLillo's theories. Late in his life, Morrison took to baiting and insulting fans in The Doors' concerts, partly as a manipulative gesture and partly because he himself was miserable about the celebrity that he had attained and his own inability to lead or inspire action in anyone, especially himself. Tony Magistrale points out, "As Morrison argues in many of his poems, the 'sleeping city' is a general metaphor for passive acceptance of the status quo." Morrison uses the metaphors of disease and dying to describe the afflicted society he was living in, in much the same way T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) was an indictment of the societal death happening all around him. 

Morrison meditates, for instance, on images that others may find grotesque or macabre to illustrate the uneasiness society has when confronted with anything that reminds them of their own mortality. Later in his life, his fans would become the spies, looking through the camera at him, dissecting each segment of his life ad infinitum, inspecting Morrison himself as if he were a "rare aquatic insect." In this way, Morrison's early writings were prophetic. Another seemingly prophetic passage from this early book reads, "Everything is vague and dizzy. The skin swells and there is no more distinction between parts of the body. An encroaching sound of threatening, mocking, monotonous voices. This is fear and attraction of being swallowed." This passage from Lords and the New Creatures is reminiscent of the opening lines of Elias Canetti' s influential study on crowds, Crowds and Power (1960): "There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange." Morrison had no interest in pandering to any portion of society, he found that no matter what he did, he was always associated with one group or another and given titles by the media that diverged from his own self-image. "Even the bitter Poet-Madman is a clown. Treading the boards" (Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison). In this poem Morrison calls himself a clown because he realizes that his message is being overshadowed by his image, as the audience expects entertainment from him, instead of guidance. As Dylan Jones points out, "Like many performers, Morrison was unable to harness his own stardom, and because of this, he began lampooning himself." "The boards" are theatrical jargon for the stage; Morrison here again recognizes that he has become an actor. 

His audience expects him to be an actor, and due to this expectation, he can no longer reach them. The poem, entitled "Road Days," contains the following verses: "I have ploughed My seed thru the heart Of the nation. Injected a germ in the psychic blood vein. Now I embrace the poetry of business & become—for a time—a "Prince of Industry."  Part of Morrison's frustration in this poem (and in his life) comes from his realization of his own entrapment by market forces. Like Bucky Wunderlick in Great Jones Street, he realizes that he is more commodity than person, a name to to be held up as an example of the corruption of the youth of his generation. By "embrac[ing] the poetry of business," Morrison recognizes that he should attempt to take control of his own persona and image by becoming aware of the business side of his career, in much the same way that Bucky begins a corporation, Transparanoia. Morrison, at the height of his fame, realizes that he is more a puppet-like performer than a revolutionary leader, and realizes the fans and the media are consuming him. Unlike DeLillo's Bucky Wunderlick, who used gibberish lyrics as a means to test the crowd's devotion to him, Morrison used his onstage persona to try to push the crowd away. Although he continued to strive against his restraints, he eventually tired out and had no choice but to give in to the public's idea of his identity, because he no longer knew what his identity was. According to friends such as Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Morrison never really wanted to be a rock star. James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky describe his initial reluctance to make himself the center of attention: "When they agreed to form a band, Morrison figured Ray would sing the songs, but Manzarek insisted that since they were Jim's songs, he must feel them more and should sing them." 

Morrison had gained the reputation for being so high on LSD that he "could eat acid coated sugar cubes all night without visible effect." Morrison's self-medication also allowed him to anesthetize the spectator part of himself and cultivate his actor persona, a persona he was carefully crafting, but to the detriment of his individuality. Unfortunately, the more comfortable Morrison became with the power he held over the crowd, the more the power shifted toward his audience and ensnared his individuality. As though to mock his stardom, Morrison rebelled against even his band mates and producers, knowing that very little could be done without him. According to Riordan and Prochnicky, Morrison loved to toy with the media by describing the band as "erotic politicians" and telling joumalists that he loved "activity that seems to have no meaning." These sound bytes were jokes to him, and he was surprised when people took them seriously. He found it "ludicrous for anyone to assume that a philosophy worth anything could be summed up in a few choice phrases. I just thought everyone knew it was ironic," Morrison said, "but apparently they thought I was mad." The meltdown in Miami meant he thought he was a fraud to himself by this point in his career, and was the foregone conclusion of such a power struggle between a proliferated image and the man. Morrison fought and pushed back as hard as he could until he broke on through to another stage. —"The sadness of great fame: The conflict between individuality and expectation in the works of Don DeLillo and Jim Morrison" (2005) by Sue-Ellen Norton Francis 

Bobby Klein, occasional photographer for The Doors, took a few photos of Jim and Pamela naked in bed, although these snaps weren't ever made public. Klein spread the rumor that Morrison had set Pam's closet on fire. Steven P. Wheeler (editor of Frank Lisciandro's book Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together): "The biggest problem, it would seem, is that even if Jim did 20 outrageous things in a 27 year period, too many fans believe that those 20 outrageous moments encapsulate a person's entire lifestyle. I believe that a vast majority of the time that you dealt with him, Jim was a quiet, sensitive and thoughtful human being.... but the Myth is that he was partying every single waking moment of his life, as the Stone celluloid debacle would have us believe. Nobody in the universe, dead or alive, can truly know about Jim Morrison's relationship with Pamela Courson." Maybe nobody can exactly define Morrison and Courson's complicated romance although some tried to. Salli Stevenson, journalist for Circus Magazine (she interviewed Morrison in October, 1970): "I met Jim on October 13, 1970. Jim and I were in daily contact after that until he and Babe Hill left for Miami on October 29th. When Jim returned, he called me. We got together for a movie with Frank and Kathy Lisciandro. We were in touch on and off until January 17, 1971. We finally spoke to each other twice in March, before he left for Paris.

The only woman that Jim ever took seriously was Pamela. They experienced every facet of a relationship that could be experienced together: friends, brotherly, lovers, partners. She was his old lady. She is the only woman he ever allowed to say she was his wife. Jim for many reasons completely bonded to Pamela. I knew that nothing could come between them. I felt that they both deserved Purple Hearts for weathering the challenges of their journey together." In words of Pamela: “The body is such a complex figure. There’s lots of little tricks and even some things feel purely magical. Pain endures through your body—Love endures through your body—Sadness even endures through your body. Yet here we all are, still standing strong as if nothing happened. Sometimes the simplest things can turn me on. Like for instance, if a guy can be really masculine one second and then the next act like your personalized teddy bear. It’s really simple things like that, that can get me going. I have a soft side too, you know. Just because I put out a mysterious vibe doesn’t mean that I don’t have permission to act girly every once in a while.” In words of Jim: “I drink so I can talk to assholes/This includes me.” According to manager Vince Treanor: "Jim was possibly disgusted by Pamela's heroin habit; however, he supported it."

According to James Riordan: "Jim Morrison always craved attention from male and female audiences while his personal sex life was exclusively heterosexual. His face was more than handsome, it was pretty and displayed vulnerability, but he was not feminine. In his eyes something definitely masculine burned. More than masculine, something dangerous." ―"Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison" (2014) by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky


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